Being a park ranger may seem like a really cool job. After all, tending to North America’s stunning national parks in serenity and seclusion is definitely a more attractive prospect than getting stuck in mile-long tailbacks during your commute or spending eight hours cooped up in a cubicle. But that time out in the wilderness isn’t always as peaceful as it sounds. In fact, park rangers sometimes have some seriously eerie encounters – ones that take place far from the comforts of the big city. And these 20 unsettling tales – from chilling hauntings to perilous run-ins with predators – may make you think twice about ever switching career.
20. Follow the wood carvings
When a crowd of young people went missing from a camping trip, the two rangers tasked with tracking the group found themselves in a situation that’s guaranteed to give you nightmares. You see, the park employees didn’t spot any footsteps on the trail. Instead – and a good 20 miles deep into the forest – they came across spears crafted from sticks, strangely etched trees and even a kid’s toy suspended from a noose.
Then after pitching up for what was presumably an uneasy night’s sleep, the rangers continued their search. But just as they thought they were closing in on the teens, a terrifying bombshell was dropped on them: the missing people had been found over 12 miles away. So, whoever had been leaving the rescuers the clues hadn’t been the folks they had been looking for. And as you can imagine, the rangers didn’t stick around to meet the twisted culprit.
19. Ranger in danger
One park ranger wound up in an especially risky situation during a hike through the wilderness in Washington State. It all started with an eerie feeling that they weren’t alone and that someone – or perhaps something – was watching them. And as the ranger had spotted fresh cougar excrement in the area, they had good cause to feel on edge.
Worse still, the ranger came across yet more feces and even a partially eaten deer the following day. The warning signs were all there; a nearby big cat was somewhere in the vicinity, it seemed. And the individual in question spoke of their natural apprehension in a 2015 Reddit thread. “Now, a cougar won’t usually tangle with a human, but here I am: a five-foot-tall, 100-pound sack of flesh and bones at least 13 miles out from any other humans,” they wrote. The ranger ultimately did what any sane person would have done, then, and ran straight out of the predator’s lair.
18. Tent for a teddy bear
When a ranger happened upon a tent pitched outside of a designed campsite, it wasn’t its location that made them take pause. You see, while the park employee discovered plenty of provisions inside – including a sleeping bag, food, cigarettes and even a teddy bear – the canvas’ rule-breaking owner was nowhere to be seen.
Not wanting to leave someone out in the wilderness without necessities, the ranger therefore left the tent where it was. However, upon returning to the spot two weeks later, they were spooked to find the makeshift shelter still in position and seemingly without any other changes. The tent was ultimately disassembled, and the fate of the person who had set it up remains a mystery.
17. A mysterious mountaineer
Up in New Hampshire’s White Mountains on a day plagued by bitter weather, two buddies anticipated that they’d be alone on their hike. “My friend and I figured we were the only people silly enough to go… [out] in the cold rain and fog,” one of the pair – an unpaid trail maintainer – said on Reddit. But as it turns out, there was another vehicle parked nearby. And though they may have wished they hadn’t, the duo seemingly stumbled upon the truck’s owner.
The man the friends saw wasn’t your typical hiker, either. Even though he was near the mountain’s peak, the stranger was dressed in just his underwear and had only two items in his possession: a walking stick and a pillow. And the other climbers weren’t able to get an explanation out of the guy. Once aware he wasn’t alone, he simply rose up and fled.
16. Grand Canyon full to the brim
In 2013 park rangers gathered on Mather Point as clouds spilled low over the Grand Canyon’s epic rock formations. “It’s a once-in-a-lifetime, outstanding, crazy, amazing, mind-blowing inversion,” the National Park Service noted on Facebook at the time.
But a number of nearby visitors were reportedly unimpressed by the phenomenon and complained that the “fog” was blocking their view of the Colorado River. Yes, they seemingly weren’t fazed by the fact that the clouds were behaving like a body of water themselves – rushing through the canyon’s sprawling depths in an eerie, ghost-like fashion.
15. Coyote party
Deep in South Texas, one dozing camper awoke with a start. “I [could] feel something… outside the tent, but I [didn’t] want to look,” they later wrote of the alarming moment on Reddit. Then, when they finally plucked up the courage to peek beyond the canvas, they caught sight of some strange silhouettes in the darkness – before realizing exactly what they were looking at.
The movement that the Redditor had sensed outside their tent was all down to a pack of around 40 coyotes. The animals were just walking around, in fact, and were apparently “almost ghostlike in their quietness.” Even so – and with just the thin tent walls protecting them from the predators – the unlucky camper somehow managed to return to sleep. Then the following day, they could hear the pack crying out across the park. That moment, the Reddit user said, “was almost freakier than seeing [the coyotes] 10 feet away.”
14. Kids’ camp crashed
After one ranger had led an expedition of schoolchildren up North Carolina’s Mount Sterling, they decided to enjoy a good book under the moonlight. Upon sensing movement near the sleeping kids’ tents, however, their attention was torn from their reading. But it wasn’t actually a bear lurking nearby; rather, the shadowed outline of a man appeared to be closing in on the camp.
Then the man halted his progress, took a seat and just patiently gazed at the tents. And, understandably, the ranger vigilantly watched the stranger for many hours until he eventually set off back down the trail. The unwelcome guest’s presence naturally cast an ominous shadow over the expedition, too, with the guide later noting on Reddit, “It freaked me out. I was paranoid that we were being followed for the rest of the trip.”
13. Usain Bolt enjoys a gruesome feast
After a ranger set out on an expedition with three buddies, he had quite the shock. At one point in the trip, the group had settled down for the night only to be brutally woken by an ear-piercing cry. Still, the quartet remained largely unfazed – even after finding “a totally indecipherable heap of flesh and fur” nearby. And when the campers heard the shriek again the following evening, they set out to look for its source.
But as night fell and the friends were returning to their tents none the wiser, they spotted a six-foot-tall figure lurking in the woods. And, alarmingly, this strange interloper quickly bolted – as one Reddit user put it – “like Usain Bolt if he were born and raised in the mountains.” That wasn’t all. At the location from which the beast had fled, the group were horrified to find yet another grisly pile of flesh.
12. Aliens in Amish Indiana
An expedition through Amish Indiana got seriously spooky when a popular lakeside campsite was found abandoned. “It looked like the people had been beamed up by aliens. Food was left out, [and] bottles of mustard [and] mayo and plates were on and around the picnic table,” a Redditor claimed after the fact.
Even the campsite staff were surprised that there was no one to be seen. Fearing that something dreadful could have happened, then, the Redditor and the rest of their group tentatively searched the abandoned tents, but they found no evidence of foul play nor any clues to the inhabitants’ whereabouts.“[There were no] dead bodies – just sleeping bags, etc.,” the commenter added on Reddit. “So, [it must have been] aliens.”
11. Creepy cuddles
Picture this: you’re in a tent in the dead of night, sleeping up close to two buddies. You’re on the outside of the huddle, too, with a friend on one side of you and the chill of the tent edge on the other. But when you finally awake, you find to your horror that you’re surrounded by warm bodies – as something or someone unknown is lying right next to the canvas.
This terrifying tale was apparently all too real for one Reddit commenter, who had set out on what was supposed to have been a routine trip through the Colorado wilds. “I was somewhat petrified,” they later said. And to make matters worse, the unlucky person never found out what had been cuddling up to them. After sensing movement in the tent, you see, the interloper had fled before the camper could take a look. The commenter added on Reddit, “To this day it still mystifies me that a wild animal – even a young deer – would bed down next to humans.”
10. The barking man
One Redditor claimed to have been a ranger on a 400-acre island with no full-time inhabitants and with no way of getting there except by boat. “I’d go out at night without a flashlight and challenge myself to hike the entire island in the dark,” they wrote. And on one such evening, they encountered the last thing you’d ever expect on a piece of remote land: company.
Yes, after being alerted by a “sharp bark,” the hiker spotted a tall, pallid man a short way off in the darkened woods. “He gave me a lunatic grin, barked again – a hard, sharp “HA” – then turned and ran off into the woods,” the Redditor later explained. But even after that unsettling run-in, there was no proof that a boat had arrived on the island. The ranger didn’t manage to confront the man again, either.
9. A bizarre man-monster
On one night in Joshua Tree, California, rangers were called out to what must have been a seriously strange distress call. Apparently, around 20 campers had been rudely awakened by someone – or something – watching their tents from the summit of a large boulder. And while the figure seemed to be human-like, one of the group later claimed that the individual’s head had been “moving back and forth like a cobra.” They went on, “[The figure] kept crouching down on all fours and crawling down the face of the rock.”
Unsurprisingly, the rangers didn’t know what to make of the situation – perhaps because the campers had varied accounts of their unwelcome guest. While some were adamant that it had simply been a naked man, others weren’t so sure. And although one of the rangers bravely set off to locate the mystery interloper, the rest of the crowd were merely left to fret over what they had just witnessed. “Either there was a naked crazy person, a monster or a mountain lion with mange running around, and it had spent at least an hour watching us. No, thank you,” the camper telling the tale added.
8. Fragrance of the forest
What could be more romantic than a walk in snow-blanketed woods? That was the idyllic scene greeting one hiker on the evening when they caught the familiar waft of perfume. But this individual wasn’t out on a stroll with a loved one. Instead, the smell seemed to have emerged entirely out of thin air.
All alone and deep in the forest, the hiker therefore decided to search for any sign of life nearby – but they couldn’t find a person, a corpse or anything else that could account for the scent. And most bizarrely of all, they could only sniff the perfume in a single spot. When writing on Reddit, the individual also made the spine-chilling observation, “You know what? I just realized I never looked up in the trees.” There goes any chance of sleeping tonight.
7. In the belly of the beast
Colorado is famed for its glorious landscapes and rich natural scenery. But after one individual hopped into a crevasse in the state in order to study the layers and folds, they came face to face with one of the most disturbing aspects of life in the wilderness.
After plummeting onto a bed of animal fur and bones, the geology enthusiast quickly realized where they were: a mountain lion’s lair. They later wrote on Reddit, “Needless to say, I scrambled the heck out of there as fast as my monkey arms would take me and counted myself lucky that no one was home.”
6. A love letter from the universe
While out on a field mission on a sparsely populated tundra in Nunavik, Quebec, two workers were perplexed to find a hand-written love letter seemingly waiting for them in the bitter terrain. Yes, when one of the pair kicked over an unassuming rock, they uncovered a note that read simply “Je t’aime” alongside a heart symbol.
“I literally got chills up and down my spine,” a member of the duo later said on Reddit. After all, the odds of the two finding that note so deep in the wild and under that one specific rock certainly seem close to impossible. “I am not a religious or superstitious man, but it felt like the universe or some higher power just reached out and poked me in the chest,” the Reddit commenter added.
5. Swimming with a shark
When past Yosemite rangers had to meet the demand for fishing at national parks, they came up with an ingenious solution to combat the lack of aquatic creatures in Ostrander Lake. Donkeys were simply loaded up with containers full of fish, with these crates then transported to the Californian attraction. But according to legend, something more dangerous also entered the park’s waters at that time.
And one trail worker seemed to confirm the rumors in their 2015 post on Reddit. They claimed that while they had been enjoying a refreshing swim in the body of water, they’d felt some movement against their leg. It wasn’t just the light touch of a trout, either. As the Redditor explained, “The shadow disappeared into the depths, and I booked it to the shore. And that’s how I met the Ostrander Shark.”
4. The Beaver State bees’ nest
While walking through Oregon’s lush forests, two pals found themselves in a particularly sticky situation. Initially, they had been spooked by their dog, as the animal had suddenly fled from the path – and apparently for no reason. “I didn’t see anything [in the vicinity], [but] experience had taught me to trust that dog, and I followed,” one of the pair later explained on Reddit.
The other individual didn’t respond so quickly, though, and found themself “running like crazy, followed by a cloud of bees so thick they looked like smoke.” And while both foresters thankfully emerged unscathed, their story is a powerful reminder that danger can just be around the corner when you’re out in nature.
3. The Grouse Lake Ghost
It should be noted, though, that spooky incidents at national parks certainly aren’t a recent phenomenon. Way back in 1857, Yosemite’s inaugural ranger, Galen Clark, noticed a haunting moan emanating from one of the park’s lakes. And while Clark initially dismissed the cry as that of an animal, local Native Americans offered a much more harrowing explanation.
Clark was informed that long ago a young boy had tragically drowned in the lake. Ever since then, it’s said, his shrieks can be heard near the waters. And even today, visitors to Yosemite are told of the legend of the disturbing Grouse Lake Ghost.
2. Haunted in Kentucky’s caves
The eerie caverns of Kentucky’s Mammoth Cave National Park make it a likely location for strange goings-on. And, accordingly, there have been countless stories of paranormal activity from park rangers and tourists alike. Perhaps the most enduring of these accounts, though, tells of the grisly fate of explorer Floyd Collins.
The story goes that on one fateful expedition at Mammoth Cave, Collins encountered disaster. Trapped by a falling boulder, he reportedly found himself injured and alone, and when no help came he ultimately fell victim to starvation. It’s even said that Collins’ ghost still roams the caves today.
1. A disturbing cabin encounter
Deep in the woods of Montana, one ranger stumbled upon a remote, apparently derelict cabin – and witnessed a terrifying scene. Beside the dwelling, he apparently found a shed that someone – or something – seemed to have battered their way out of. And things are said to have only gotten stranger when the ranger peeked into the cabin. There, he allegedly saw a bed that appeared to have been ravaged by a feral beast. Then there was the Native American man in a trance-like state apparently coming towards the park worker.
Yet this perplexing encounter supposedly went from weird to downright bizarre when the ranger returned to investigate the locale the next day. Upon seeing the visitor, the Native American is claimed to have disappeared into the building and bolted the door. And when the ranger peered inside, he apparently couldn’t spot any trace of the man. Then completely out of nowhere, a bear subsequently tore off into the woods. Make of that what you will.